Growing Your Own Potatoes
Where to grow your potatoes
The versatile potato will grow well in most soil types but ideally they should be grown in well-drained, loamy soil that is not too heavy. Your potato plot should be dug over in late autumn/early winter so that the frost can break down the soil structure - this will help make for easy planting in the spring. The soil needs to be deep, well dug and with plenty of well-rotted compost or manure mixed in.
It’s important not to grow potatoes in the same part of the garden every year. Potatoes are susceptible to a fairly large number of minor pests, plus one or two major pests. Luckily, pests that attack potatoes only have only a limited survival time if they do not have access to potatoes, so ideally potatoes should only be planted in the same part of the garden once every 7 years. This is not practical for the vast majority of gardeners, so aim to develop the longest rotational system you can accommodate in your garden. (A minimum of 3 or 4 years if possible).
Preparing the seed potatoes
When you receive your seed potatoes, unpack them and lay them out in trays in a cool, light, well-ventilated and frost-free place out of direct sunlight. Do not store seed potatoes in a dark place.
Chitting Seed Potatoes
Chitting allows strong sprouts to develop on the tubers before planting. Chitting is not essential for Maincrop potato varieties but it is strongly recommended for First Earlies and, to a lesser extent, for Salad potato varieties and Second Earlies.
The aim of chiting is to produce plump, dark green or purple shoots about 1in/2.5cm long prior to planting. Long, white shoots are a sign of too much warmth and not enough light - this is why you should avoid storing seed potatoes in a dark place. If the shoots are slow to appear, move the tubers to a warmer position for a couple of weeks and then back to the original, cooler spot for the final week - do this about 3 weeks before planting.
To chit seed potatoes, simply place them in a seed tray or individually in an egg boxes so they are just touching. Make sure the ‘rose’ end is facing upwards. The rose end in where most of the eyes are; it is these eyes that will form the chits.
Place the potatoes in a cool, light position at a temperature of about 45oF/7oC. Make sure the area remains frost free.
Planting seed potatoes
In milder, frost free areas, First Earlies can be planted from late February; Second Earlies from early March and Salad varieties from late March. Maincrop varieties can be planted from late March.
A few days before planting your potatoes, fork over the plot, adding some general purpose fertiliser in the top few inches. Make a ‘V’ shaped trench and set the tubers in rows, either at the bottom or in individual small holes made with a trowel. If you form the rows running north-south, this will allow the sun’s rays to warm both sides of the ridges.
Space the seed potatoes as follows - First Earlies, Second Earlies and Salad varieties: 12in/30cm apart and 4in/10cm deep in rows 18in/45 cm apart.
Maincrop varieties: 15in/40cm apart and 4in/10cm deep in rows 24in/60 cm apart.
Earthing up the potato crop
As soon as the seed potatoes start to produce shoots above the surface of the soil, it’s time to start ‘earthing up’ the rows. This protects the plants from late frosts and also prevents the tubers from becoming green and inedible. Earthing up involves piling soil over the shoots from either side of the row to form a ridge. Repeat this regularly until the ridges are around 8in/20cm high.
Feeding and watering your potatoes
Potatoes need plenty of water, especially aroundflowering time which is the same time as the actual tubers start to form. Water your potato crop every 10 days during a dry spell. Like most garden watering, an occasional heavy soaking is better than little and often and will help prevent shallow rooting.
An application of a high potash fertiliser will increase yields but try to avoid fertilisers with a high proportion of nitrogen as the potato crop will take longer to mature.
Harvesting and Storing Potatoes
Harvest times depend on various factors such as planting times, temperature, weather and potato variety. Here’s a general guide:
First Earlies are best harvested in small batches and eaten soon after whilst still fresh in June and July.
Second Earlies and Salad potato varieties can be lifted in small quantities and eaten when fresh during June and July. If the potato skins are allowed to ‘set’ – (they don’t rub off) – cut the potato plant foliage down to halt growth, lift in September and store as you would a Maincrop variety.
Maincrop varieties can be lifted from September onwards. If you harvest in dry conditions and the potatoes are dried properly, you can store the crop in a hessian sack in a cool, dark frost free area such as a garage or outbuilding.
Gro-Sack - Easy Potato Growing
The Gro-sack offers an easy solution for growing your own potatoes virtually anywhere - on the patio, balcony or wherever you have a little space.
Gro-Sack Potato Guide
At planting time (normally March or April), set three tubers on top of a 6-8in/15-20cm layer of good quality compost in each Gro-Sack. Cover the tubers with a further 4in/10cm layer of compost.
As the potato plants start to grow and shoots emerge above the soil surface, add more compost to cover the shoots and then repeat as needed until the compost is about 2in/5cm below the top of the bag. Keep the compost moist at all times but don’t saturate it as this might cause the tubers to rot. Harvest and eat when ready in June and July.